You had a brilliant idea for a mobile app, and spent several months building, refining, and testing it. Now that it’s live in the app store, how long do you have before the app reaches the end of its “lifespan,” and people begin to stop using it?
According to Adobe, roughly six months. If that seems unfairly short, blame the crowded state of today’s app stores, which feature hundreds of thousands of apps, many of which are extremely well-built by very smart people; in those circumstances, it’s difficult for any one developer to stand out. (Hat tip to Re/Code for originally surfacing Adobe’s data.)
Adobe’s data also shows that the vast majority of app launches target smartphones first—perhaps not surprising, considering that the market for smartphones remains robust even as the appetite for tablets seems to have slackened. Earlier this year, App Annie published a report suggesting that multiple categories of mobile apps had enjoyed explosive growth in 2014, including mobile video, travel, and transportation software. Casual gaming also remained strong.
Given that growth, though, it’s clear that developers only have a limited window to make their app stand out from the pack. And that’s not just a matter of advertising, although having an aggressive marketing plan in place before launch is absolutely essential to early adoption. It means creating an app that offers a unique experience—something much easier said than done, given the number of competitors.
Discovering that unique experience requires research, and lots of it. For all the stories about app developers who came up with a popular app in a spasm of unadulterated genius, the reality is that most creators need to take the time to discover users’ needs and desires.
There’s also the matter of researching competitors, and assessing any gaps in their feature sets. Do reviewers complain that a competing app lacks X or Y? That sounds like a perfect opportunity to jump in with an app that provides exactly those things—provided, of course, that the competitor doesn’t update their own offerings in the interim.
The sad truth is that a polished UX, along with smooth functionality, will also give the average developer a huge advantage over the competition; while there are hundreds of thousands of apps available for Android and iOS, many are totally shoddy.
But even the most well-designed app is racing against the clock these days.